Building the Perfect Circle

Kathy Coakley Barrie and Dennis Barrie are drawing a new triangle for the Circle.

University Circle is the cultural hub of Cleveland, its second downtown. And a wedge of it is about to change forever.

So, one crisp autumn afternoon, Cleveland Public Art founder Kathy Coakley Barrie and I stroll The Triangle, the intersection of Euclid Avenue and Mayfield/Ford roads, where University Circle ends and Little Italy begins. I spent a lot of time here in the early ’90s doing underground theater. There were trips to the Kinko’s to make programs, the drug store for odd props and harassing the staff of the Free Times in their former offices in the large, glass-housed Cleveland Institute of Art annex known as “The Factory.”

These days it’s just that really irritating intersection I must squeeze through at rush hour to get from MLK to Cleveland Heights. There’s nothing here I can’t find anywhere else, and no reason to stop.

That’s why Coakley Barrie and her working partner and husband Dennis Barrie have been brought in. They were instrumental in creating the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C., and the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage in Beachwood. Now they are spearheading a coordinated effort to reimagine the Triangle, hoping to invigorate it with first-rate restaurants and retail, to make it a better place to live, work — and even park.

Peter B. Lewis has donated a portion of the $300,000 earmarked for turning the area into a “vibrant urban district.” The 1525 and The George Gund foundations are also supporting the effort.

Coakley Barrie hopes to have a final plan soon and break ground on the development sometime in late 2006 or early 2007. And I want a preview.

So we meet at the McDonald’s in the homely strip mall-type building where East 115th ends at Euclid. Next door, the ubiquitous Curves was having a grand opening. She leads me out of the McDonald’s and onto the street, where I try to imagine something other than the surface parking lots and vacant storefronts in front of me.

Near the corner of Euclid and Mayfield, instead of that hideous welded hunk of art (my daughter Zelda calls it “the Horse”), might be the new home of MOCA.

“That should be a fabulous building,” Coakley Barrie says. “And if the CIA consolidates there at the Factory — that synergy between MOCA and the CIA means you’re already on your way to having a district which is heavily identified with the arts.

“What if this entire stretch [from the “Factory” to the “Horse”] was a remarkable assortment of buildings, of different scales and different uses, with people living here, looking out over the street?”

Across Euclid is a strip of land known affectionately to the locals as “The Beach” — despite the fact that it is largely parking lots. The new plan will pull Case’s bookstore out of Thwing Center and put it right there across the street, at Euclid and Ford.

These new storefronts and apartments would come to the edge of the street, and the parking would be hiding behind.

Our walk takes us around the rear of the McDonald’s … which will have to go. Apparently, East 115th once swung through here, meeting up with that other East 115th Street that begins on Mayfield, and makes the block a true, little triangle. Coakley Barrie and her husband want to reunite this street.

“We need to break up this mega-site,” Coakley Barrie tells me, “so that people can access it through nice, short streets. People have the opportunity for short-term, on-street parking.”

Creating easy-to-navigate pathways through University Circle is part of what Coakley Barrie calls Phase Two: “Tying this site back throughout the university.”

“I’d really love to see absolutely great world-class public art throughout the entire campus of University Circle, and the location of remarkably huge, wonderful pieces helps you figure out where you’re going.”

Hopefully not art like “The Horse.” Zelda might like it, but I don’t.

“I think the time is now to take the design inspiration from the Peter B. Lewis building — which set a marvelous standard — and go from there,” Coakley Barrie says.

I look forward to the day when, instead of dreading the intersection at Euclid and Mayfield, my family and I will want to go there to eat, shop and maybe find out the real names of the art.

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